3 Learnings about Motivation


Motivation: The reward is in the journey.

Motivation is the key to what we do and why we do it. If you aren’t motivated, then you aren’t going to do it. Money, love, security, purpose, freedom, achievement, connection, happiness, these are just a few elements that could motivate some of us.

Let’s just pin down exactly what I mean by motivation. I don’t mean that quick burst of ‘motivation’ that you get after looking at a video or hearing an inspirational story. I mean that motivation that makes us want to do anything. In our job, relationship, free time, sports, socially, what we spend our money on, even our purpose in life.

I am fascinated by what motivates people and why it motivates them. In this article I take you through some of the core learnings that I found on my journey in understanding the vastness of motivation.

I remember sitting up at night towards the end of my last year at university not having a clue about what I was going to do. The logical choice was to get a job and work my way up through an organisation but as I thought about it I found the prospect monumentally dull. The fear set in that that was going to be my life, making someone else’s dreams come true, working 9 till 5 in an office shuffling paperwork around. That life purpose would be great for some, but for me it wasn’t. It chilled me to my bones.

I then spent the entire night with some blank sheets of A4 paper and my laptop and wrote down every single possibility that I wanted to pursue. At the top of each page I had where I was now and at the bottom I had 3 or 4 options. I must have filled in excess of 20 A4 sheets, writing end goals down and the steps I needed to take there, every qualification, how much time to spend in each job, plan A, B and C for every route. When I’d finished and the morning light was shining through the window, I sat back and thought to myself:

‘Why am I so bothered about all of this?’

Then something clicked into place, it was an ‘ah ha!’ moment for me in my life and I found myself hooked on the journey to discover why I was so bothered. Why was I so motivated not to do a 9-5 job? Why did it matter to me? What’s motivated me to sit up an entire night and map out all these possibilities?

I set about reading books on the area, researching journals and papers, listening to podcasts, talking about it to everyone around me. I even made it the focus of my dissertation looking at ‘motivation types in endurance athletes’, which yielded significant results.

I was obsessed in my search for what makes people tick and thought if I could crack what made people want to put themselves through extreme situations and experiences like endurance athletes then I could apply those learnings to other contexts in my own life and others. The endurance athletes I studied were fell runners, iron man participants, rock climbers, kayakers, canoeists and mountaineers that generally opened themselves to more risk than your average person.

So what did I find?

Learning 1: People do things for a purpose that isn’t tangible.

In a nutshell, people’s motivation is not driven by money, prizes or anything that we can physically grasp. Instead their motivation focused on feeling a certain emotion, experiencing something that they haven’t had before or fulfilling a personal goal for them.

After I left university I went into a sales job in retail to keep me afloat whilst I studied a PGcert Counselling part time. This was when I came across my next big learning about motivation.

Learning 2: People are either moving towards or away from something.

I used to sell outdoor gear in retail like waterproof jackets, boots, etc. and I started noticing a trend in customers that I would advise. When they bought products that were significant to them like waterproofs, hiking boots, tents, etc. that would potentially save their life, their purchase was based on either moving away from being wet on a mountain, not getting blisters, hypothermia OR they wanted to be more comfortable and have the better kit (towards).

Now this is a subtle difference in agenda for buying a jacket. For example, imagine a customer comes into the shop and says they are looking for a waterproof jacket. I take them over to our range of jackets and show them one that is an £80 budget jacket and another that is a £190 jacket with fleece lining and quality tested waterproof fabric built in. The customer looks at the two jackets and says ‘I’ll go with the £190 jacket, it’s more comfortable.’

Now imagine that another customer comes in and I show them the same jackets and they say, ‘I’ll go with the £190 jacket, I wouldn’t want to catch hypothermia.’

They’ve both bought the same jacket but their motivation for buying that jacket is very different! One bought it because it was comfortable (towards) and the other because they didn’t want to get hypothermia (away from).

Funnily, I found when I was doing my PGcert Counselling that the same thing was happening! People’s motivation for what they were doing in their lives, career, relationships etc. was predicated on moving towards or away from a particular factor. You just had to identify what that factor was.

NLP has provided me with an approach that rolls everything I had learnt beforehand into a package that can be used in any situation. By taking on the teachings and mindset of NLP there is one learning that stood above the rest and took motivation to a new dimension for me.

Learning 3: Motivation is driven by high level generalisations.

I had always known this but had not come across an explanation that is as elegant as NLP describes it. It truly shifted my mentality in my understanding of motivation. You might have experienced this yourself, when you read or hear a concept explained in a way that resonates deeply with you. When you couldn’t have said it better yourself and something clicks into place.

This third learning means that above everything there will be an overriding factor (generalisation) or handful of them that is why you do everything. Why you have certain behaviours, act a particular way, why you’re in your job, why you’re in a relationship or not. Everything. In NLP we call these generalisations values.

Each one of these generalisations aren’t tangible and you are either moving towards them or away from them. For example, someone might think money is their motivation. Money will be a stepping stone to get them something that is at the top of their hierarchy such as power, freedom or recognition. You can’t touch any of these generalisations. Moving on from that, if money will get them freedom for example, are they moving towards freedom or away from being restricted?

So all we have to do to find what motivates us is find those generalisations that everything points towards. Hit the highest generalisation and the source of your motivation will be uncovered. How useful is that going to be?! By knowing what makes you tick you are going to be able to drive towards that motivation consciously and to be aware of it!

Fortunately, there are NLP techniques that can help you discover your highest generalisation and show you what is really important to you. You can even align them with your goals to supercharge yourself and your mindset! Look at our Performance Coaching or drop us an e-mail to find out more. You can even come on one of our NLP Master Practitioner courses and learn the skills of how to do this yourself.

These three learnings all revolve around each other and each one is interconnected to give the overall understanding that I now have today. It took me a while to boil down everything I know about motivation to 3 points for a blog post as there are a lot more which I couldn’t include! However, these are my top 3 for understanding the essence of the concept of motivation.

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